On Life, love and Politics

"Random musings about Life, love and Politics. Just my open diary on the events going on in the world as I see it."

Pope’s comments on condoms are wrong and irresponsible June 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — kikenileda @ 5:44 PM

Nathan Geffen and Rebecca Hodes

cc flickr.com
the Pope’s discouraging comments in Cameroon over the use of condoms in
relation to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Nathan Geffen and Rebecca Hodes of Treatment Action Campaign
charge that such papal views are misguided and fly in the face of
evidence around the efficacy of both condom use and sex education for


On Tuesday 17 March, Pope Benedict XVI visited Cameroon and told
reporters, ‘You can’t resolve [AIDS] with condoms… On the contrary, it
increases the problem.’ (Source: CNN)

The Pope’s comments are irresponsible. The evidence that consistent
condom use is effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission is
incontrovertible. We’ve reprint the abstract of a scientific meeting
that analysed 138 peer-reviewed articles to determine the effectiveness
of condoms at reducing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted
infections (STIs), including HIV. A key finding of the meeting was that
the results of ‘longitudinal studies of the sexual partners of
HIV-infected persons indicate that consistent condom use reduces the
risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.’

The evidence is considerable that abstinence-only programmes,
apparently favoured by the Pope, are ineffective. The AIDS Research
Institute of the University of California, San Francisco, published a monograph in March 2002 that states:

An assessment of the peer-reviewed, published research reveals no
evidence that abstinence-only programs delay sexual initiation or
reduce STIs or pregnancy. By contrast, credible research clearly
demonstrates that some comprehensive sex education, or
‘abstinence-plus’, programs can achieve positive behavioral changes
among young people and reduce STIs, and that these programs do not
encourage young people to initiate sexual activity earlier or have more
sexual partners.

The evidence shows that it is important to distribute condoms and that
it is also important to provide sex education to adolescents, including
accurate information on how to use condoms.

In Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township, Treatment Action Campaign
(TAC) activists distribute over 500,000 condoms every month. A
dedicated Khayelitsha activist is nicknamed the ‘Condom King’. A study
conducted by Dr Virginia Azevado proved that scaling-up the
distribution of condoms to over a million a month in Khayelitsha
resulted in a remarkable 50 per cent decline in STI incidence between
2004 and 2007.[1] This is further evidence of the efficacy of condoms
as a means of preventing STI infection in poor, African communities.

Preaching abstinence to many communities in Africa is alienating and
irrelevant. Many sexual encounters in marginal communities with high
rates of HIV infection are coercive or transactional. In contexts in
which gender inequality is rife, to instruct women to abstain from sex
or to remain faithful to only one partner demonstrates an ignorance of
their sexual realities.

The South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC)
is a large provider of HIV services in South Africa, including
antiretroviral treatment. It is concerning that the views of the leader
of the Catholic Church are incongruent with the good work being done by
the SACBC.

* Nathan Geffen and Rebecca Hodes are with South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.


[1] V. Azevedo, ‘Scaling-up Male Condom Distribution in Cape Town Metro
Region’, poster presented at a Department of Health Conference in
Johannesburg, 2009.


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